7 steps for empowering homebuyer clients with disabilities

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Creating an equitable path to homeownership for clients with disabilities should be a mission every agent considers adding to their list of goals. According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some type of disability, including hearing impairment, vision impairment, cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities and more. 

Clients with differing abilities may have unique needs, and understanding these needs can make the difference between a successful sale and a missed opportunity. Here are seven steps that you, your team members and your staff can take to support clients with disabilities.

1. Educate yourself about accessibility and applicable laws

Engage in courses and workshops that focus on accessibility in housing. The more you understand the requirements and preferences of individuals with disabilities, the better equipped you are to serve them.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) provide protection for people with disabilities against discrimination. Familiarize yourself with these regulations to ensure that you provide services in a compliant manner. This not only protects your clients but can also shield you from potential lawsuits.

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, complaints alleging discrimination because of disability continue to account for the largest number of Fair Housing complaints, at 54.56 percent. 

2. Assess the situation, and ask good questions

Every time you start working with a new client, the process starts from scratch. Even if you have previously served someone with a particular disability, it’s important to go into the partnership without any preconceived notions.

Avoid stereotyping people with disabilities as having a health problem or stereotyping all people with disabilities as having the same challenges. Each client’s needs are unique, and while some might need wider doorways for wheelchair access, others might need homes with special sensory accommodations. 

Always ask open-ended questions to gather as much information as possible. This ensures you’re not making assumptions and are genuinely addressing their concerns. 

“It can be difficult at times to see a unique challenge or disability someone is dealing with. The goal is to dig deeper and ask the tough questions in a respectful way using people-first language,” says real estate broker Steven Gendel.

Creating a list of specialists, such as occupational therapists who can provide insights into functional home designs, experienced contractors who can retrofit homes to enhance accessibility, and lawyers who specialize in housing rights, amplifies an agent’s capacity to serve clients effectively. 

Sharing insights, strategies and resources with a team of like-minded professionals means agents can approach each case with a well-rounded perspective, equips agents with the knowledge needed and provides a robust support system for advice. This will not only help to find homes that can be easily adapted to a client’s needs but can also contribute to building a more inclusive and accessible community.

3. Be mindful of scheduling and showing homes

Gendel and his wife Erica have dedicated their careers to advocating for clients with disabilities and are connecting agents with resources through KW Special Needs, a group they created to support our agents who have special needs and those who work in the community.

Some of the questions that they may ask in an initial client assessment include:

  • Who in your family will have the most difficulty moving?
  • What type of support do you or your caregivers need in your home?
  • What’s your ideal space layout for maximum comfort and functionality?

4. Reframe your understanding of communication methods

In working with clients with disabilities, it’s paramount for real estate agents to reframe their understanding of communication methods. This goes beyond verbal exchanges, expanding to encompass a variety of communicative modes such as sign language, written communications, and potentially utilizing assistive technologies. 

Bernardo Vallarino is a 20-year industry veteran, dual-career agent, and founder of KW-Signs, “I believe the biggest barrier is the inability of businesses to understand that when it comes down to communication, they have to provide interpreters,” Vallarino said.

Being adept in alternative communication strategies can aid in bridging gaps and fostering a more inclusive and understanding environment. By adjusting and expanding your communication toolkit, you not only enrich your relationship with your clients but also empower them, facilitating a homebuying process that is respectful and cognizant of individual needs.

5. Connect with a network of specialists who share your mission

Some disabilities are less visible than others. Some clients may have fatigue or other disabilities that make them tired. Be sure to take a step back and assess timelines for finding these clients a home and assess the client’s ability to go and look at homes in person. Consider how many homes they are able to view in one afternoon. Are there any transportation limitations when it comes to helping them reach their destination? 

Before showing a house to a client, many agents take the time to preview it. This allows the agent to assess its suitability, consider the specific needs of the client, save time and reduce potential frustration.

Utilize technology to give virtual tours or include the client in a video chat instead of having them arrive in person, especially if physical mobility is a challenge. This allows them to narrow down choices without the exhaustion of physically visiting numerous properties.

6. Be patient and empathetic

Working with clients with disabilities is more than understanding legal requirements; it’s about fostering sincere empathy and an in-depth understanding of various physical and sensory needs different individuals may have. 

Remember, some clients might be navigating the housing market for the first time with a disability. Being patient, understanding and empathetic can make the process smoother and more positive for them. The goal is to facilitate not just a transaction but to help find a home where your clients can live safely, comfortably and happily, respecting their individual needs and preferences.

7. Evaluate your ability to serve

Sometimes, the best way to show up as an ally is to admit that a client may be better served by someone else. As with any referral, it’s important to know and recognize that maybe you don’t have the right tools to take care of a client and direct them to someone who is better equipped to care for their experience

As real estate agents, it’s our responsibility to advocate for all clients, ensuring that they find a home that is not just a structure but a place where they can live comfortably and safely. By prioritizing the needs of clients with disabilities, you not only expand your market but also play a pivotal role in making the housing sector more inclusive.

As the head of inclusion and belonging for Keller Williams Realty International, Julia Lashay Israel advises, trains and coaches leaders, team members and agents to recognize and address diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities and challenges across the organization.

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